Instagram, the free social media app which enables you to share information through pictures and short captions, is among the most used forms of social media used by adolescents. Predators are aware of Instagram’s popularity with young people causing the app to become increasingly more dangerous. Parents need to be aware of Instagram’s risks and address them with their children.
In order to assist parents, here are 8 ways for you to keep your child safe on Instagram:
- Limit hashtags
A hashtag consists of the number sign (#) followed by a short message. They are frequently used in Instagram photo captions and can quickly become dangerous. When a hashtag is included in an Instagram post, people can click on it and be taken to a page where they can view all posts that included a particular hashtag. Hence, when an Instagram user posts a photo with a hashtag, their photo is automatically linked to every other Instagram post that used the same hashtag.
Hashtags are also searchable. By typing them into the “Discover Section” on Instagram, users can view any public post captioned with the hashtag.
Many seemingly innocent hashtags are codes for sexually explicit material including pornography. Emojis can also be used in hashtags and often serve as icons for different sexual behaviors. This includes the peach emoji which is used to represent nude rear photos, the tongue and water emoji for oral sex, and the emoji with the number 18 crossed out for nudity.
Children should be aware that using hashtags can not only lead to the people they don’t know finding their photos, but can also cause them to unintentionally link photos to pornography.
- Use the privacy setting
Instagram allows users to enable a Privacy Setting which gives you the ability to determine who follows you. When the Privacy Setting is activated, if someone wants to follow you they have to make a “request.” You will then become notified of their request and can decide whether or not you would like to approve it. If you so choose, you can ignore their request.
People with the intention of exploiting adolescents have been known to follow their account and comment on their posts in order to attract the young person’s attention. The safest option for adolescents is to have the Privacy Setting enabled to prohibit these people from viewing, following, or commenting on their account without their permission.
- Instruct your teenager to only allow people they know to follow them
People with the intention of sexual exploiting children have been known to follow young people and link them to pornographic accounts by commenting on their photos. Parents have also found their child’s innocent photos reposted with sexual links and hashtags. For this reason, it is important that teens not allow people they do not know to view their account and follow them.
- Encourage them to not hesitate to unfollow and or block people
If a suspicious user likes or comments on one of your child’s photos or messages your child, they should be instructed to not hesitate to block them. There is no reason to allow an account that contains sexualized material to become associated with your child’s account. When an Instagram user that is not following your child likes one of their posts, the reason is often to draw attention to their own Instagram account. Your child does not need to facilitate questionable Instagram accounts by allowing them to “advertise” on their profile.
- Make sure they do not respond or open messages from people they do not know
While this might seem obvious, many children are not aware just how dangerous it can be to message with someone they have never met. Instagram users can message your child even if they are not following them and have their Privacy Setting turned on. While they do have the option to “ignore” messages from people they do not know, the content of the message is still visible. Children could be sent explicit material without their permission and be exposed to it when they open their messages. For this reason, it is best to instruct children to simply not open messages from people they do not know and to block these users.
- Teach them to avoid the “Discover” section
The “Discover Section” or “Search Section” of Instagram is filled with sexualized images and explicit material. Other than distraction, this area of Instagram serves no purpose for young users and offers countless opportunities for your children to be exposed to pornography.
- Instruct them to not share their location
One feature on Instagram allows users to share their location when posting a photo. This is not only unnecessary, but dangerous. In fact, if your child has Instagram on their phone, it is best to instruct them to not allow Instagram to access Location Services at all.
Children have been known to be trafficked after a predator found them using the location they posted on social media. Even if your child waits to post until they have left the specified location, it is always safer for them to not advertise their whereabouts on Instagram where a criminal might view location details and identify places the child likes to frequent.
- Teach them not to post any personal information
Children, and all Instagram users, should be cautious when posting anything that contains personal information. This includes pictures of their home, school, work, or places that they obviously visit regularly. Children should also be encouraged to refrain from posting any unnecessary personal information when captioning their photos.
Predators are aware that the more personal information they gather from a child’s account, the more interesting and friendlier they seem to children when contacting them. Remind your children that they should always remember while posting on Instagram that their post could potentially be viewed by a criminal.
For more resources on how to protect your children from sexual exploitation visit the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Parent Resources Section.